Tuesday 24 February 2015

Be Lovely Day, January 17th, The Brink

Our first gig of 2015 was at an event organised by the wonderful Jodie Schofield (who trades musically under the name SheBeat), to mark the third Be Lovely Day. This annual explosion of good deeds and acts of kindness is Jodie’s personal project and we were honoured to be asked to play a part in it.

One of the events for this year’s Be Lovely Day was an afternoon of acoustic music in Liverpool’s TheBrink. Those of you who follow our activities will know that it’s a venue dear to our hearts; not only did we publicly announce our engagement on its stage (the classifieds column of The Times is a trifle déclassé, don’t you think?), but Ruth held her Hen Do there (and Marc the second of his Stag Dos), AND they did the catering for our wedding. Yes, it’s fair to say we’re Fairly Well Disposed to The Brink.

Planning for the gig, we were presented with a similar issue to January of last year (and possibly the one before): our most recent Big Gig, the one we’d worked towards and planned and practised for, had been a Christmas concert. And there is one fact about doing Christmas concerts: your repertoire evaporates after 1st January. Thus we had a bit of work to do to get back into non-festive match fitness. However, after a couple of evenings’ rehearsal, we soon felt confident we could rock the (post-Christmas) house.

On the day, we were last on the bill, which meant we had the pleasure of watching the other performers before taking our turn on the stage. Sets from Kate Garroway, Cal Ruddy, Michael Bennett and our pal Derek King made for a wonderful afternoon’s entertainment, and it was great to see the acts staying around to watch each other play.

Our own set seemed to go down well, and we’d brought along an extra surprise for Be Lovely Day; the sheet music for Let No Man Steal Your Thyme, which Ruth had adroitly put together in Noteflight.

All in all a memorable afternoon – we keenly await next year’s events!

Sunday 15 February 2015

In the mix: Amateur Astronomy

Yesterday, after a slightly fraught early morning (the gas meter had eaten through the last of the emergency credit thus necessitating a slightly disheveled trip to the Co-op before we could even have a wash), we went to Catalyst Studios for our last session of putting our mini-album together.

Andy, as always, was helpful and knowledgeable whilst mixing the songs from our previous session, with lots of useful suggestions and some little tricks of the trade to tidy away the odd error or two.

Then, we went back to the songs from previous studio sessions. There were a few minor issues we'd spotted since recording which Andy was able to correct with cutting edge software. It's quite something to see how, using Pro Tools, a misplaced nudge of the ukulele can have its own waveform which can be made to simply vanish. We also added something very special to Millbrook which you'll have to wait to hear!

Ruth's son came in towards the end of the session after having spent the morning at his dad's. Luckily we'd had the foresight to buy him a puzzle book and a set of pens so he wasn't too bored, though he did wonder why we had to check everything so many times. We explained that it was because we wanted everything to be the best it could possibly be (but also, more candidly, that we had no more of the recording money & vouchers we'd been given for our wedding, so this was our last chance to get everything perfect)!

We came away with a CD with all of the songs for the mini-album on it, in the right order, so we can listen and decide how much of a gap - or not - we want between them all when mastered. The CD itself is just under half an hour long so we think it's possibly that bit too long to be reasonably called an EP, but that bit too short to be described as a full-album (hence us calling it a mini-album). We can't quite believe how fantastically this concept album hangs together; each song seems to fit perfectly, and they all sound sumptuous! There are so many instruments too in addition to our harmonies; this album has everything from melodica to psaltery; from violin to mandolin, from piano to bodhran... and more.

We've already worked on the cover art for the CD, but there are so many other things left to do before we can release it. We've decided on a single (digital release only) for the album, which will be Ella Brown, and have commissioned some cover art, to display online, from an exciting young mixed-media artist; having seen some sketches already we're intrigued about what she'll come up with for the final design. We're also awaiting the final mix of our b-side (folk classic Reynardine) for the single; unlike the a-side and the rest of the album, this has been recorded by one of Ruth's friends who is studying for a music degree.

We have myriad other i's to dot and t's to cross; signing up to PRS, getting the CDs printed and burnt, deciding how to get our music onto other platforms outside of Bandcamp, writing to various publications to request reviews, arranging the launch gig and mini-tour (a mini-album necessitates a mini-tour, surely). Naturally, we also have other responsibilities; we both have jobs and of course there's Ruth's son to parent and a house to run. We've been so lucky, though, that we could even do this at all; the kind wedding presents of studio time were such lovely, thoughtful gifts from friends for which we're incredibly grateful. It's so exciting to record an album together and hopefully, this won't be the only one.

We're also indebted to people who've helped us pre-promote the album so far; you Macramists are the BEST; sharing posts across social media, bringing friends to gigs and generally spreading the word. We'd simply love it if you keep it up now; if we can create a bit of a buzz about Amateur Astronomy in advance that would be marvellous! Thank you all. xx

Sunday 1 February 2015

We have finished recording... now for the rest of the to-do list!

Yesterday we went to Catalyst Studios, St. Helens, for our final recording session for our mini album, Amateur Astronomy.

We started with our version of Schiarazula Marazula, a mediaeval dance which probably originates in the Friuli area of Italy. Ruth discovered this tune last year and immediately thought it was perfect for us to cover. Our version stays the same tempo throughout, and we've added lyrics to one of the repeated phrases. As Marc bought Ruth a psaltery for Christmas, it seemed a shame not to use it; we also added bodhran, ukulele (plucked), descant recorder and some backing ahhs and oohs.

Ruth arranged it to have an additive nature; due to this and the way it builds, organising the different parts on the mixing desk was a bit of a challenge, so once Andy (the producer) had the basic structure down we moved onto the next song.

Our next song, Frosty Nights (When I Was Your Age), is a-cappella, with just two parts, one for each of us. Ruth wrote it for her son, and we've been singing it around the house so much that before we set off for the studio, Ruth's son was singing snippets of it himself! We hadn't originally intended to put this on the mini-album as Ruth composed it in mid-January this year, after we'd already planned a rough track listing, however, it fitted so well with the theme that we couldn't leave it off. You might have to look that bit harder for it as a result. We'll be giving away the sheet music free with our album so you can have a bash at singing it yourselves.

Last up was Marc's composition, the title track of the album, Amateur Astronomy. Over a year in the writing, the song has three distinct sections coming together to tell a simple story. Its lengthy gestation means it's ended up nothing like the song he started out with, but it's all the better for that. Utilising the tenor ukulele Ruth bought Marc for Christmas, in addition to piano, some soaring strings and backing vocals from Ruth, Marc handles lead vocal duties on this one.

After recording all three songs, that was it for the day; we've arranged to go back to mix everything on Saturday 14th February (yes, Valentine's Day; is there anything more romantic than spending time together in the studio?)

As usual, Andy was fantastic; he doesn't shy away from telling us, diplomatically, if we could go back in the booth and record something again better; he also makes an excellent brew.

Whilst we were in the studio, we finalised the track-listing for the mini-album. It has a loose concept running through it, so we had to think carefully about where everything goes. We've already designed the front cover of the CD; once everything is mixed, we have to sort out CDs, a launch, reviews, radio play, and the back cover of the CD, too. A friend of Ruth's is also recording us performing folk staple Reynardine as b-side for our first single from the album, which will be our folk-inspired song Ella Brown (you can watch us playing it live here).

We're very excited about having finished recording, but in some ways, that's only the beginning. Watch this space!